Johnson, alias Crow
Where the seasons are divided and the bush begins to change,
and the links are rather broken in the Great Dividing Range;
where the atmosphere is hazy underneath the summer sky,
lies the little town of Eton, rather westward of Mackay.
Near the township, in the graveyard, where the dead of Eton go,
lies the body of a sinner known as “Johnson alias Crow.”
He was sixty-four was Johnson, and in other days, lang syne,
was apprenticed to a shipwright in the land across the Rhine;
but, whatever were his prospects in the days of long ago,
things went very bad with Johnson — Heinrich Johnson (alias Crow.)
He, at Eton — where he drifted in his age, a stranded wreck —
got three pounds by false pretences, in connection with a cheque.
But he didn’t long enjoy it, the police soon got to know;
and the lockup closed on Johnson, lonely Johnson alias Crow.
Friday night, and Crow retired, feeling, as he said, unwell;
and the warder heard the falling of a body in the cell.
Going in, the warder saw him bent with pain and crouching low —
Death had laid his hand on Johnson, Heinrich Johnson, alias Crow.
Then the constable bent o’er him — asked him where he felt the pain.
Johnson only said “I’m dying” — and he never spoke again.
They had waited for a witness, and the local people say
Johnson’s trial would have ended on that very Saturday;
but he took his case for judgment where our cases all must go,
and the higher court is trying Heinrich Johnson (alias Crow.)
Henry Lawson. Short Stories in Prose and Verse, L. Lawson, Sydney, , pages 24-25
In Short Stories in Prose and Verse, the lines in this poem are not separated, but are run together in story form. They are divided into separate lines here to enable easier reading.
This poem is based upon an incident, which took place in 1891, of the death in custody of a man who was in remand for giving a valueless cheque to a publican.
lang syne = Scottish for “long since”; commonly known in relation to the song “Auld Lang Syne” (“old long since”), being the poem written by Robert Burns (and later set to music) which was based upon an old Scottish song